Homily November 18, 2018
Homily for the XXVI Sunday after Pentecost B – November 18, 2018
Daniel 12: 1-3
Hebrews 10: 11-18
Mark 13: 1-8
Historically, the expectation that the world will end up in flames has been quite common. In several cultures, we find the idea of a series of cosmic eras, with each one eventually dissolving and letting a new one arise. And scientists today expect the sun to remain stable for about another five billion years, after which at some point the whole solar system will collapse. So the ancients were not totally off, except for expecting the end of the world to come in their lifetime.
If the scientists are right, why such a distant event should be worrying us or even be of interest to us? In the first place, as we all well know, modern man has made possible for the end of the world to come much sooner. We don’t have the ability to make the sun implode, but we can annihilate our own species and maybe even banish all forms of life from the earth. What in ancient times were speculations and apocalyptic fantasies have become now real possibilities. The end times, instead of being in God’s hands, are effectively now in humanity’s hands. This is frightening. We may not want to think about it. We might choose to concentrate on more immediate tasks at hand, on more immediate crises, but the word of God calls us today to reflect precisely on this uncomfortable topic. The responsibility of humankind is enormous at the present moment, like it has never been. What can we do? Is there any antidote to our folly which has placed our fears and ambitions at the center of the stage? There is an antidote. It is represented by a counter-apocalyptic way of thinking and behaving. We practice it already everyday but its energy may become much more pointed if we are conscious of what we are doing, if we become aware of the fact that we are not alone in practicing this kind of resistance to the apocalyptic nightmare. Apocalyptic thinking at its roots is predicated on the desire to annihilate one’s enemies. Such malignant energy is then transformed into a general frenzy of destruction. For this reason, because the idea itself of “the enemy” is at the center of apocalyptic thinking, when we place compassion and understanding in the center of our lives, rather than making enemies of anybody, for example the poor and the refugees, we are taking the apocalypse out of our hands and we are placing it back in the hands of our caring Creator. When we set aside our self-centeredness, tending instead to the creatures of God, perhaps by creating a garden for the neighbourhood or by working at changing our rate of water consumption, we are behaving in a counter-apocalyptic way. We obey to the divine mandate of caring for the earth and its people, and we leave to God the calculation of the times of the end.
But what did Jesus say about the end times? In general, he seems to have asked his listeners to abstain from calculations (Mk. 13:32) and to be watchful for the new age to come (Mk. 13:37), rather than being afraid of the cataclysmic events that accompany the shift from one cosmic era to another (Lk. 21:28). The term “new age” is indeed very much a Christian term. Early Christians did expect a new world to be born out of the ashes of the old one. They also felt very deeply that the suffering involved in the change was going to be abysmal, just like the suffering of a woman in childbirth, just like chaos before the emerging of creation. In today’s Gospel, in particular, the topic of chaos and cosmic endings is connected to the demise of the great Temple in Jerusalem, where Jesus preached and debated for a few days before his own descent into the chaos of death. The “end” which we are dealing in the Gospel narratives is not just a physical destruction of cosmic proportion; it is also the end of religious and social institutions as we know them. The end, for example, of theological debates such as the ones that Jesus reluctantly engaged in the Temple. “There will not be left here one stone upon another” (Mk. 13:2). The word of God today calls us not only to counter-apocalyptic action, although it does. But if we think simplistically, if we rest assured that we can avert the apocalypse by our own efforts, we again take the place of God. We are not really listening to the word of God that we are called to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” (Collect). Who tells us that we are not living at a special juncture of the history of the earth, at a time in which a new age is being born through much pain, through birthpangs indeed? We may see only the pain, the wars, the famine, the destruction, but what if all of this is but a sign that the old ways of power and domination are summoning all their energies to fight against the birth a new way of life on earth? What if we are at the beginning of a cosmic struggle indeed? Perhaps the cosmic transformation that Jesus announced has barely started. Who can assure us otherwise?
I wonder if we as a Church are ready to do our part. Can we keep up with our counter-apocalyptic work while also allowing ourselves to enter the deep current of transformation that God is engendering at the present time and might indeed look like an apocalypse? “There will not be left here one stone upon another.” These words of Jesus about the Temple should be applied to all our institutions. We can apply it to the Church. ynbhnnWe can even apply it to our beloved parish. What would mean for us if these buildings were to be destroyed? Why we are afraid even of hearing of such a possibility? I am afraid. I love this place. But is its survival that matters? Or is it finding a new way to respond to God’s call? To the specific call addressed to us right now, and that we only dimly perceive? Responding to such call, learning to trust such call, and being less and less afraid... all of this will not shelter us from the pain necessarily connected to the beginning of the new age. But even if our attempts at planning ahead for the parish are a very tiny effort in the larger scheme of things, they are about participating in a cosmic transformation, a cosmic change of paradigm! Not a small thing indeed!
Let us not be afraid, therefore, of the new age that is to come. That we invoke every Sunday when we sing that we expect “the day of his appearing”. Let us also not feed the apocalyptic thinking of our species which feeds on the image of the enemy and leads to unnecessary destruction. Let us trust God and God’s power to work in our lives. Amen.